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COVID-Free Stay WOKE Speech and Debate Competition 2021

By Anna Galaktionov


With the COVID-19 pandemic coming to a close, the fourth annual Stay WOKE Speech and Debate Competition of 2021 was held on Nov. 17 in the David Brinkley Studio – this time with both an engaged live audience, one in studio and one at a watch party, and an active livestream audience as well.

The competition is organized by the communication department at Barry and the student newspaper The Buccaneer in collaboration with BTV Channel 14, a TV studio run by Barry students.


The debaters used the articles written by the student reporters of The Buccaneer as part of their speech resources.


Barry student Christopher Mitchell, a.k.a “Mr. Flavor,” began the competition with a vibrant introduction from the watch party in Bucky’s Cove, and Dr. Vicente Berdayes, chair of the communications department, continued back at the Brinkley studio by welcoming Barry University’s President Mike Allen for opening remarks.


The president was happy to initiate the competition, saying, “there is no more important life skill than the ability to communicate effectively.”


Professor Tiffani Knowles, the faculty advisor of The Buccaneer, concurred with President Allen by emphasizing to “stay woke, stay vigilant, [and] stay alert.”


The event moderators were Brianna Lopez, copy editor for The Buccaneer, an Honors English major, and recipient of “best writing in a single-story feature” from the Catholic Press Association in 2020, and Mateo Gomez, former political writer at The Buccaneer and graduate with a double degree in broadcast and emerging media and political science.


The officials, who challenged each speaker with thoughtful questions during each debate, were staff writer Amanda Gonzalez Garcia and Dr. Mariely Valentin-Llopis.


The judges were Dr. Sean Foreman, Dr. Mimi Capote, FMU professor Jefferson Noel, and Dr. Dale Hartz.


Each debater argued either the affirmative or negative side of each topic.

The first topic was on whether Congress should outlaw state lawmakers from infringing on the Roe vs. Wade ruling on abortion.


Sofia Ruiz, a freshman biology major, argued for the affirmative side. Her speech coach was Professor Morshe Araujo. She claimed that the legislation in Texas, which banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, causes an increase of deaths from botched abortions, targets low-income women, and doesn’t give women enough time to do an abortion, since most find out that they are pregnant at five-and-a-half weeks.


Junior computer science major Ethan Brooks opposed Ruiz in his speech. His speech coach was Gillian Royes. He claimed that abortion is not safe or legal, but instead, is a multi-million industry that misleads people. He believes that states have the right to infringe on the Roe vs. Wade abortion ruling.


The next topic focused on whether college students should be allowed excused absences to care for their mental health.


Cristina Blaya San Pedro, a junior in international business, argued the affirmative side by claiming that mental health is an actual, real problem among college students that must be addressed. Her speech coach was Gillian Royes.


Her opponent, Shanieya Harris, a junior with majors in Spanish and education, disagreed. The reasons for her disagreement were 1) too many excuses are made already, 2) it’s a hard habit to break, 3) it’s actually already excused, 4) it’s socially unjust, and 5) it’s unscientific. Harris’ speech coach was Professor J. R. Steele.


The third topic was on whether the United States should make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory or not.


The affirmative speaker Sade Quinn is a freshman pre-nursing major, and her speech coach was Professor Morshe Araujo. She argued that mandating the vaccine is a sign of caring for one another, especially for the ones who have underlying health conditions.


Daniel Aiello, a freshman with his major in business administration, stood for the negative side and voiced that - even though he is vaccinated - the long-term effects of the vaccine are unknown and frightening, and therefore, the vaccine should not be mandated. His speech coach was Professor J. R. Steele.


The last topic was on whether Congress should restore the full protections of the Voting Rights Act in states across the country or not.


The speaker, Tassai Pemberton, a sophomore in accounting, stated that the United States must fulfill its stance as a democracy that gives power to the voice of the people and the right to sound out that voice through voting. Her speech coach was Gina Margillo.


There were also two speeches presented by remote students Melanie Cabo, a sophomore pre-law major, and Angela Rodriguez, a senior criminology major.


Cabo argued that Congress should outlaw state lawmakers from infringing on the Roe vs. Wade ruling on abortion by claiming that a woman’s right to choose must be protected, stinging the audience with her own testimony about sexual assault. Her speech coach was Professor J. R. Steele.

Rodriguez claimed that the COVID-19 vaccine should be mandated because it saves lives, saves money, and saves sanity.


Following the speeches, each winner received their awards.


Shanieya Harris won first place, Tassai Pemberton followed in second place, and Sofia Ruiz took third place.


The staff at The Buccaneer and all the event participants congratulate the winners and all the speakers!


Professor Tiffani Knowles thankfully ended the competition by reminding all viewers to prepare for some healthy debates with family during the Thanksgiving holiday.

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